Race Reports

I decided to add Raleigh to my race schedule this year.  I was determined to take the lessons learned from Chattanooga and apply them in my race execution here.  The swim featured quite a number of quick athletes, so when the gun sounded, a good, solid group of about 8 guys pulled off the front into 2 separate packs almost immediately, which left a large group of more mediocre swimmers in charge of focusing the large main pack.  A third of the way through the swim I noticed Matt Russell swimming right next to me on my right and Thomas Gerlach’s signature teal tri suit (sans speedsuit) just ahead, so initially I was pleased with where I was and was content to stay put.  Unfortunately it seemed no one in this pack was really keen on driving the pace at the front, so by the halfway point the pace really started lagging, and the group, which consisted of at least 10 guys, really bunched up and I started getting a bunch of elbows and kicks.  When I’m not stretched to stay with a group, I know I’m either in the wrong group, or whatever group I’m in is going to have a large gap to whoever happened to get off the front earlier.  And that was exactly the case today.  We all exited together, but we gave the lead packs 2-5 minutes out of the water, which would be tough to pull back.

I attempted to make my way through transition efficiently, hopped on the bike in 5th out of about 10 guys in the group, and then quickly passed two of the guys.  Russell, Gerlach, and Michael Poole had gapped everyone, and I went to work to bridge the gap.  In the process of catching Gerlach and Poole, I passed Luke McKenzie, who had a minute gap on us out of the water.   By mile seven I had caught Gerlach and Poole with Russell up the road.  I was encouraged that I had a couple allies to work with in the pursuit, but after three or four miles or pulling, I discovered only Poole had stuck with me.  Over the next 45 miles, we traded off the lead legally and came into transition about a minute down from a group of three.

The run didn’t pan out very well for me today.  My stomach was a complete brick from taking in too many calories and not enough water, so I trudged through the run at a fairly pedestrian pace.  I managed to move into 7th overall by mile 5, but after that I stalled a bit and was never able to pick up enough momentum to make a charge for 6th.

Overall I had an average swim, and average bike, and a below average run, which results in 7th overall just over 4 hours and 4 minutes.  On to Eagleman!

For those who don’t already know, my life changed fairly dramatically in January, as I decided to refocus my efforts on racing and coaching.  I currently maintain my position as the Health and PE Curriculum Coordinator with Williamsburg-James City County, but I am no longer teaching in addition to those responsibilities.  Instead I have doubled down on making athletics, and triathlon in particular, part of my job.  As a result, I have been able to allocate additional time to train and recover, I have less day to day stress overall, and I have had increased opportunities to be dad and to help Tori with family duties.  That’s not to say that the decision wasn’t risky, but if you don’t take risks, you’ll never see rewards.

 

All year I’ve really had a mindset shift in the way in which I approach my training and racing.  This is my job.  It’s work.  That’s not to say it isn’t fun, but ultimately I would argue that to do the work to be successful day in and day out, it’s not always fun in the moment.  Pushing your boundaries and growing is not always fun.  Ask anyone who has ever raced a marathon if they’re having fun at mile 22.  But the accomplishment of a tough task and the potential for achieving great things makes the day to day struggles bearable.  The opportunity to reach or exceed your goals makes you want to keep driving in the last third of the race.

 

Since 2014 I have made the pilgrimage to Chattanooga, either for the full or the half, knowing that with a current assisted swim and tough run course, this was well suited to my strengths.  For the past three races, it just never quite worked out for me, and I was never able to capitalize.  I was hoping the fourth try would be better.

The current in the Chattanooga River seemed to be screaming after a few weeks of heavy rainfall, so the game plan for the swim was basically to start out full throttle for the first 10 minutes upstream to catch as much benefit from the faster swimmers as I could, and once I reached the turn buoy, I could let the current do most of the work.  As always, the start of the swim was kind of a mess, I got tangled up in a bunch of arms and feet just trying to stay in the wake of the front pack.  Eventually the string broke, as it did for a couple of us, and we formed a nice second group.  I’m not sure who ended up driving the pace in our group, but it was quick enough where I was content to stay on hips and feet and head out on the bike with whoever I was swimming with.  When we climbed out of the river, I noticed there were at least 5 of us together (maybe with more right behind?) but learning from last year’s full, I made sure to make quick work out of T1 so I could maintain contact with the group on the bike.  I exited T1 with four riders from our group ahead of me, and then went to work.  Matt Russell was at the front of the group, and he was aiming to bridge the gap to the front bike pack, who was a little over a minute and a half up the road.  The group immediately split a little bit, but I kept them within eyesight until about mile 20 when I started to work back to the group.  I caught the group somewhere around mile 40, rode with them for about 5 miles, and then took off in the last 10 miles or so to try to close down time between me and the front of the field.  I had absolutely no idea how many guys were in that front swim pack or how far ahead they would be, but when I dismounted in T2 I was pleasantly surprised to see 6 guys just heading out of T2 with the 2nd and 3rd place overall bikes riding with them.  So although I was coming off the bike with a couple guys myself, I knew I was only about 2 minutes off second heading into the run.  I liked the sound of that.

My legs felt way better off a similar bike ride at last year’s CHOO 70.3, so I was ready to attack instead of just hoping to hang on.  I closed the gap to 7th within 2 miles, and although 2nd through 7th had spread out considerably over that time, they were all lined up in front of me, and I could see that the gap between me and 2nd had even come down a bit since the start of the run.  I had no idea where first was, but I heard around mile 4 that we was about 7 minutes up the road.  At that point I (incorrectly) assumed that nobody would see him again until the finish line, and I just tried to catch as many guys as I could in the little “pain train” that was lined up in front of me.  As it turned out, I caught one guy every couple of miles or so, put in a little surge each time, and then settled back in.  By mile 10 I had moved into 3rd, and with Matt Russell still about 90 seconds ahead, I figured I would give it what I had to get a decent time, but my place probably wasn’t going to change over the final 5k.  To my surprise, with 2 miles to go on the last turnaround, I saw the lead bike wait and change positions to follow Matt, and quickly realized that while I was having my own personal battles catching this long line of runners, Matt had been driving this line trying to close down the gap to the leader, who was coming back quickly.  I got a gap to him at 45 seconds with a mile and a half to go, and I absolutely knew I could bridge up to him and had the legs to make it a race in the final stretch if need be.  It ended up only taking me about half a mile to take those 45 seconds out of him, and I politely made the pass and then let it rip down off the pedestrian bridge and down to the riverfront for the finish.  The race unfolded almost perfectly today, as I was able to get into a good swim pack, work comfortably hard and stay within reach on the bike, and then use my run to close it out.  It would have been amazing to have been able to bridge up to Russell, the champion, and make a race of it in the final miles, but he was just too strong today, and I just didn’t execute quite well enough to put myself in position to have that chance.  Fortunately I know some things that can be changed, and I know I am capable to doing those things effectively moving forward.

I could not be happier about the support I have this year.  I line up on the swim start knowing I have the best swimskin on the market in the Xterra Valor.  My LG Tri Kit fit like a glove all day, the Diamondback Serios was quick and responsive, my Rudy Project Boost was perfect, King Apparel socks kept my feet super comfortable on the run, my SweatVac hat kept the sun out of my eyes when it popped out briefly (and when flipped backwards gave me an additional mental boost (Over the Top, anyone?), and I relied exclusively on First Endurance products from Pre-race to post race to keep me hydrated and fueled throughout the day.  The Snapple Triathlon Team is a fantastic community to provide support from all across the country, and I’m thankful to be a part of it!

So all in all it was a great day for me!  I’m excited about the next few weeks of racing, and I know that the entire starting list of each race is clamoring to get up on the podium, so I’ll have my work cut out for me, and I’ll have to continue the work I’ve started this year.

For almost an entire year, I painted a picture in my head about what I wanted to accomplish at Ironman Chattanooga based on my effort there in 2014.  I had a solid race there, going 8:39 as a culmination of what I would consider a lackluster Ironman build.  I knew I was capable of more on that course, and I was confident I could lop off close to 20 minutes from that time this year.

That was, of course, if the weather conditions played nice.  The week of the race, forecasts called for race day temperatures in the mid to upper 90’s with little cloud cover, so I mentally prepared myself and readjusted parts of my race strategy so that I could thrive more successfully in the heat and humidity.

Looking back at IM CHOO 2014, I had been right with the main pack for about 10 minutes when the string broke and I lost contact.  Once I was off the group, I wasn’t strong enough to latch back on, and I ended up swimming the 30 remaining minutes of the swim solo, losing a few minutes to the main group.  I was surprised at how long the group pushed the swim at the beginning of an Ironman.  Well this year, I came into the race fully prepared and ready to get after the swim and do what it took to stay with the group.  I was confident and aggressive at the start and put myself in great position.  I worked with Chad Holderbaum and Matt Russell towards the back of the group, but I stayed comfortable and relaxed, and I was so pleased that I had made the group!  As the swim came to an end, the group definitely shifted gears a bit, and the tightly knit group spread out just a bit.  I was still with the group, but exited the water last, close to 15 seconds after the first guy in the group.

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Tail end of the swim packing whipping around the corner

Running through transition, I did my best to be efficient and get on my bike as quickly as possible.  So I hopped on my bike, and all of a sudden, where was everyone?  I saw Justin Daerr about 50 meters up the road and that was it.  I knew I didn’t beat everyone out of transition, so I knew they all had to be just up the road.  So I focused on catching Justin, and figured if I could bridge up to him, then I would be able to see other members who would be regrouping.  So I rode at close to 90% FTP through town.  Only problem was, not only was I riding well over my target pace, I was losing ground fast to Justin, and still couldn’t see anyone else up the road.  So I kept on the gas, and ended up riding close to 85% FTP for 40 minutes.  Eventually I couldn’t see Justin anymore, and at that point, I decided that riding at essentially HIM effort any longer would be severely detrimental to the long term outcome of my race.  So I scaled back and started riding within myself.  From that point until mile 50 I didn’t see another rider.  Once I started my second loop, I could at least key off of the riders starting their first loop.  Around mile 80 I was passed by Jozsef Major who was absolutely flying.  Then at mile 105, I was passed by Colin Laughery.  His pace was a bit more in my wheelhouse, so I stayed in contact with him the best I could, as I weaved through wave upon wave of age groupers and vehicles on the road to and from Chickamauga.  Once we took a right on 193 and headed back into town, I was able to really put my head down again and finish the bike strong.

The heat was an absolute beast today.  I have done 5 out of 7 Ironman triathlons in hot, humid conditions:  2007 IM Louisville, 2009 IM Kona, 2012 IM Texas, 2012 IM Kona, and now 2016 IM Chattanooga.  I never thought anything would top my experience at Ironman Texas, but this past weekend came awfully close, and was certainly equal to, if not more difficult.  I just really struggled almost from the start to balance how much fluid/electrolytes I needed to take in to compensate for what my body was losing.  I could feel my head cooking in my ventilated aero helmet, and the water I poured on myself through the aid stations didn’t provide a cooling effect that lasted very long.

 

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Smooth sailing out of T2

I started the run right beside Colin, but quickly I pulled ahead and made my way down the first, long stretch of the run course.  I’m no stranger to running alone in long course triathlon, so I focused on staying relaxed and staying cool.   I really had no clue where I was in relation to those up ahead of me until I reached the other side of the river, where I was passed by several pros who were in the neighborhood of 20 minutes ahead of me.  I stayed confident that if I executed a solid run, at least a couple of those guys would come back to me.  When I crossed the pedestrian bridge right at 13 miles, I got a split to 10th place at 1:30.  Yes!  Finally someone to chase down!

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Feeling Hot

Unfortunately two miles later, I was halted in my tracks with a debilitating side stitch.  The stitch would dissipate after stretching so I could run again, but 50-100 meters later it would return, and I would have to stop and bend/stretch it out all over again.  This process happened from mile 15-mile 21.  It was a really rough section for me, and for a few moments I thought that I would have to walk/jog all the way in.  As I came up to mile 21, I finally decided to walk for 200m straight, take a huge bottle of electrolyte drink, and slam the entire thing before I even thought about running again.  So I did, and when I got back to running again, I was able to hold it together much better.  The last 5 miles of the race weren’t the prettiest miles I’ve ever run, but I did run and managed to salvage what I still consider an extremely subpar run, even in the conditions I was operating in.  I finished in 11th overall in 9:06 and change.

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Where is the ice?

I am very conflicted with my result from this race.  On one hand, I am extremely disappointed with how I executed certain parts of my race which may have had a large impact on my finishing outcome.  My tactical error at the tail end of the swim/T1/beginning of bike cost me quite a bit I believe, and staying on top of my sodium better would have potentially prevented that bad 5 mile stretch of the marathon.  On the other, I had a great swim, and when things weren’t going my way, I continued to fight.

Overall this was my worst IM for the kind of shape I was in and it was my worst overall placing ever in a pro triathlon race, but I remain confident that I can produce my best IM yet in the near future.

The volunteers for this race were nothing short of spectacular.  The vibrancy and enthusiasm of the run course aid station volunteers blew my mind.  I know it was hot for everyone, not just the racers, and they just gave so much of themselves all afternoon.

I was so thankful to have Tori, Cassidy, Greg, and my dad there to support me.  I am proud to represent the Snapple Triathlon Team and its sponsors – Xterra Wetsuits, First Endurance, Garneau, Sweatvac, Rudy Project, Trainingpeaks, and Diamondback Bikes.

With a handful of solid results culminating with a 2nd overall at Eagleman 70.3, I feel that I’ve turned a corner this year, and I am absolutely looking forward to building on my momentum in 2017!

Eagleman 70.3

 

“Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another”

  • Walter Elliot

 

Back in 2013 I started my journey racing as a professional triathlete with the ultimate goal of consistently placing on the podiums in prestigious races and possibly even winning one. Reaching the pro podium proved to be quite the challenge!  While I’ve never finished out of the top 10, I consistently finish between 6th and 10th place.  After two years of doing things the same way and getting the same results, I decided to mix things up.  I hired a coach, I got a new bike, and I got to work.

At the end of May, I raced a 70.3 in Chattanooga, and recorded a less-than-mediocre 10th place finish.  I knew I was capable of more, I just didn’t put it together on the day.  So three weeks later I found myself wading in the Choptank River with 20 other pros ready to start Eagleman 70.3.

On paper the pro field wasn’t nearly as accomplished as the one I had raced against in Chattanooga, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from racing over the past 20 years, it’s never to underestimate anyone. Each pro on that starting line has accumulated a deep list of strong race results, and only the foolish would discount any professional who has earned the right to be there.

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Eagleman pro start

 

Having said that, the swim played out perfectly for me. There weren’t any super swimmers in the field, so while two guys jumped off the front about 90 seconds in front of the group, the lead group of 10-12 racers stayed together the entire way.  I was able to stay in contact in the opening minutes (and believe me, there was a lot of contact), and then just kept my eyes on the group the entire way around the course.  I felt steady and comfortable, and if someone started to pull off the front, I was absolutely ready to throw in a surge to close it down.  That never happened, and I decided to stay tucked in to the group and come out as comfortably as possible.  (11th OA, 28:04)

Transition took a little more time than usual- I decided to roll my sleeved top down during the swim to increase some shoulder mobility, but getting the wet top on while running to my bike proved to be challenging. I believe I lost one spot in the race here, and hopped on the bike in 12th place, right at the tail end of the main group.

It was such a relief to be heading out on the bike with others, but I quickly realized that the riders that came out in the front of the group were creating a gap to some of us in the rear, so I put my head down and went to work. The Diamondback felt incredible.  I think the biggest thing for me is the ride quality.  The Serios is so responsive.  That was the one thing that I never felt my old bike could do.  I always felt like I was riding a Mack Truck when I rode it, and on technical courses I never felt like I could keep any sort of momentum.  That has never been the case with the Serios – when I want to go, it goes!  I steadily moved up through the field over the first hour.  Around that time, I reached my old college teammate Kyle Pawlaczyk.  He was riding well, and it took me about 10 minutes before I was ready to move past and set the pace on my own.  Fortunately, once I moved past him, I almost immediately saw another small group up the road, which turned out to be the lead chase group.  Once I bridged the gap to the group, I sat up and weighed my options.  I was sitting in 5th on the road, but I knew all three of the guys in that group, and I knew they were all strong runners.  So I decided to push the pace for the next 15 miles and see if I could break them a bit.  Turns out that the only guy willing/able to come with me was Thomas Gerlach, who I had ridden the final miles with in Chattanooga.  He was intent on keeping the pace hot, so over the final 10 miles we took turns at the front trying to create as large of a gap on the rest as we could.  I set a new 70.3 bike split PR by just about 3 minutes on similar power as I’ve ridden in previous races.  Cheers to Diamondback and Rudy Project for getting me through that bike course as efficiently as possible!  (2nd fastest bike split on the day, 2:06:52)DSCN0701

Eagleman run start

 

Rolling into transition, Gerlach had put about 5-10 seconds into me. I knew I was currently in third, and I was pumped to be starting the run that far up in the race.  I threw on a running singlet (for the first time ever in a tri, but hey, it was hot!) and got on with it.  As I was heading out onto the run course, Kyle came in with the two others from that initial chase group in tow.  So I had somewhere around 10 seconds to Gerlach and close to 45 seconds over fourth.  The big change was that this time around, unlike in Chattanooga, I felt good!  Finally I had my legs and I was ready to race aggressively, not reactively.  I took over second place within a half mile, and then focused on pressing on the best I could.  At the first mile I received a time gap to Cody Beals, who was running way up ahead in first place:  4:30.  Woof.  That’s a lot of time, and Cody is no slouch on the run.  So I stayed relaxed, controlled my core temperature with water and ice through the aid stations, and told myself if I got another split halfway through the run and I was gaining on him, that I would take some risks on the back half.  Honestly I was still concerned with having at least four guys charging behind me within a minute, and protecting second was still very important to me.  Unfortunately I never did receive any additional time splits to the lead, but I did continue to gain on third.  With a few miles to go third was well behind out of sight, so I was able to focus on finishing well and in control.  (2nd fastest run, 1:18:38)

Eagleman finish

 

Coming down the finishing chute to finish second was exhilarating. I set a new personal record for the distance: 3:56:38, lopping off two and a half minutes from my previous best time.  The recent changes in equipment, technique, and approach to the sport served me well, and I was finally able to meet that goal.  I was still disappointed that I couldn’t put myself in position to challenge for the win, but that will have to come another day.  The key takeaways for me are that I am still improving year over year, and I now have the knowledge that I do have what it takes in training and in racing to become a perennial podium placer in long course triathlon.

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Big thanks to my family for their constant support, my coach Dave Luscan for his guidance and expertise, the Snapple Triathlon Team, Xterra Wetsuits, Diamondback Bikes, Rudy Project, First Endurance, LG, and Sweatvac. Without just one of those crucial pieces, I am an incomplete puzzle who would still be searching for his first IM 70.3 Pro Podium.

 

Nutrition:

Breakfast:

2 cups Maple + Brown Sugar Oatmeal (360 kcal)

1 bottle EFS PRO Lemon Water (120 kcal)

1 banana (100 kcal)

 

Pre-race:

1 gel + water

 

On the bike:

2 bottles containing 4 scoops EFS Pro Lemon Water + 1.5 servings of EFS Vanilla Liquid Shot (620 kcal)

1 large bottle of water

+ a couple sips of some Gatorade Endurance at an aid station (20 kcal)

 

On the run:

1 flask w/ 1 serving of EFS Liquid shot + 1 serving of EFS Pro Lemon Water (140 kcal)

Coke @ every 4 aid stations (100 kcal)

Water and Ice at every aid station

Ironman Chattanooga 70.3 Race Report

 

Well, I got it done. That pretty much sums up my experience at the 2016 IM Chattanooga 70.3.  It was a disappointing race on many levels, but I was able to draw out a few positives, which will continue to motivate me moving forward.

Thank you to Tori and Cassidy for the sacrifices they make in allowing me to continue to pursue this sport at an elite level. Thank you to my Dad for the company on the trip, and to my friends and family for their constant support win or lose.  Thanks also to Dave, my coach, for guiding me over the past half a year and getting me into the best triathlon shape of my life.  Now to the race:

 

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Might be hard to tell, but I’m guessing I was right in between the very large first wake and the second slightly smaller wake of swimmers.

Swim (26:10) 17th Overall

I knew I had to start off this race flat out and hang with the group as long as I could. The race started, and I made it perhaps 2 or 3 minutes behind the last guy in the big group before I lost contact.  The compounding factors that made this so disappointing were how large the group was (ended up being 14 guys) and how quickly I lost contact after intentionally starting out at/over the red line.  Two guys passed me shortly after (I probably owe them an apology because they were probably on my feet and lost the group because of me).  They came through and I could follow them, but then the lead swimmer started swimming off line, so I took a tangent.  By the time they got back, they had gained several body lengths on me.  I pushed hard again, but could not regain the space that had opened up.  So there was my swim.  I did basically the remaining mile solo trying desperately to catch a couple guys working with each other 30 seconds up the river.

 

Bike (2:13:02) 11th Overall

So for those of you who are friends with me on Facebook, you may have seen a fiberglass solution for my between the aerobars water bottle holder. I was quite proud of myself, and after testing it out a couple days before the race, I was confident it would do the trick.  Within a mile of starting the bike, I hit a bump in the road, simultaneously launching my rear bottle from its cage and cracking the fiberglass in half, rendering its capability of securing holding a bottle useless.  So as I’m figuring out what to do with my front bottle, I notice my rear bottle was gone (which turned out to work perfectly, because I just put the front one in the rear cage, but also eliminated a perfectly good bottle of EFS Pro that I was counting on).  Once I got everything cleaned up and reorganized, I got to work.  I caught two guys within the first 10 miles, and then averaged catching a guy about every 10 miles after that.  The course was certainly hillier than Williamsburg, but I felt comfortable on my Diamondback and was able to stay aero.  The last guy I passed was Thomas Gerlach from the US Pro Tri team, right before the long descent out of the town of Chickamauga.  I pushed as hard as I could all the way back on the flat section heading back into Tennessee.  He was riding well, and was able to stay with me.  Between miles 45 and 50 I just hit a wall, and the power dropped pretty drastically.  Gerlach repassed me, and I just tried to stay within contact until we arrived to T2.  Left quad really tightened up on the way back into town, so I spent the last miles trying to work it out in preparation for the run and trying to stay in close contact with Gerlach so that I had someone to start of the run with.  Uploading the power file to the coach was not fun, because I have had MANY workouts with much better quality riding in them.  I can ride much better than I did today.

 

Run (1:17:47) 10th Overall

Immediately starting off on the run, I had to continue to work out that sharp tightness in my left quad. Not sure why, but it just set the stage for a run that I would consider average at best. Considering how I’ve felt on many of the brick runs I’ve done in training, I would consider this baby below average.

Working out the legs a bit

Working out the legs a bit

It took me just over 2 miles to reel back Gerlach to reclaim 10th.  From there I tried to reclaim the legs I’ve had in training sessions, but they never appeared.  I was apparently slowly gaining on several of the guys ahead of me, but for the remaining 10 miles I never got within a minute of anyone.

 

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Looked solid on the run, but legs just would not move any faster today

Finishing Chute

Finishing Chute

So I continued my streak of never finishing out of the top 10 in a professional triathlon race, but it wasn’t the result that I know I’m currently capable to producing.  Maybe a little rust, maybe the loss of some of the nutrition on the bike played a factor, maybe just not my day, not quite sure.

What I do know is that by earning a result like this last year I would have been quite pleased with myself against this kind of field. Not this year.  Not with the work I’ve put in.  Not with the knowledge and confidence that I can do better.  So I guess that “reframing of my mental outlook” is a shift that I can build on.

The massage hurt oh so good

The massage hurt oh so good

 

I have several goals that stem from this race:

  1. Do well enough in a major triathlon so that the editors at Slowtwitch.com spell my last name correctly. When making the summary results list, my name has been spelled incorrectly 2 out of 3 times. I guess it probably doesn’t make much difference for the guy who finishes 6th or 7th or 10th. So Slowtwitch, I see what you’re doing there. Kudos for providing some additional motivation.
  2. Keep working on the swim. Maybe it’s changing, and it’s just not there. The swim continues to be my Achilles heel of triathlon, even at the 70.3 distance. I swim a minute and a half faster and all of a sudden I put myself into the bike race with a decent amount of company. Most of that minute likely needs to be made in the first 500 meters, though, as I barely had a chance right out of the gate and swam my race practically solo for the last mile.
  3. I’m a bit conflicted about this one, because I believe being humble and quietly confident is who I am and is one of my strengths, but maybe, just maybe I need to be a bit more aggressive about talking the talk so that I can actually walk the walk. I certainly run the risk of looking and sounding like a total idiot, but I know I can compete with the upper tier of guys in long course triathlon.

The new one piece Snapple tri suit was amazing today, my Diamondback Serios was quick and responsive, even when my legs weren’t, my Xterra speedsuit got me through the water, and I wish I had been able to use more of that delicious and effective EFS Pro Lemon Water!

Give Me Five!

 

Well, it was a little more like I had to earn five, but nonetheless, I walked away last Saturday with my fifth consecutive Patriots Half title.  It was by far the most difficult win of the five, presenting some challenges that I hadn’t faced in years’ past.

Historically I have been one of the stronger swimmers in this field, but this year Ian King was back to tackle the entire race, and Dan Harris, another pro was here for a bit of redemption from a 2nd place finish two years ago.  I decided to start right next to Ian and figured that I would be able to catch a draft for an extremely short period of time.  Maybe it might be enough to gap myself from the rest of the field.  When the race started I executed my plan perfectly, hopped right onto Ian’s hip, and hung on for dear life.  I made it in his slipstream about a minute before he popped me off.  There was another swimmer up with Ian, and then one guy who was just to my left around the first buoy.  Once I lost contact with Ian, I thought to myself, “Ok, let’s just work with this guy, who is obviously swimming pretty well right now.”  So as he pulled up beside me and then slightly ahead of me, I was ready to work together and limit my losses to the top two guys.  Then before I knew it, he just dropped the hammer and was gone.  It was such a violent change of speed that I wasn’t prepared for, but I hardly doubt that it would have mattered anyways.  I’m pretty sure this is the guy who came out of the water first, so not only did he drop me, but he also ended up bridging the gap to the leaders and then gaining some time on them too.  So that left me on my own for probably a mile out of the 1.2 mile swim.  The river was a little choppy today, and they definitely made the race go against the harder section of the current.  After it was all said and done, I came out of the water with just a 2:18 deficit on the first swimmer, and with about 2 minutes flat on Ian King.  I also had opened up about 2 minutes on anyone else in the race, so I was happy that I would have a buffer on Dan Harris going into the bike.

My transition was quick enough where I left T1 in 3rd place, and then set off to hunt down the leaders.  I stayed conservative early on, knowing that although I couldn’t see the cyclists ahead of me, they were literally just up the road by a couple minutes.  Once I turned onto Wilcox Neck, I started riding with a bit more purpose, and before mile 15 I caught and passed second place on the road.  He looked strong, but it was evident that he would not be able to sustain my pace, so I went on in search of Ian.  For a while I was a little worried.  I figured that I would be catching Ian a little faster given my pace, but I still couldn’t see him or the lead motorcycle.   Luckily, on the long stretch of road before the turn onto Sturgeon Point, I saw the flashing lights, and I knew I was within a minute.  That was comforting, and it helped me to relax a little.  Right around that time, I hit a bump, and the bottle behind my saddle popped right off, hitting the road and then spilling all over.  It only had about 200 calories of electrolyte drink, and I knew the race would have a few more aid stations where I could get some Gatorade, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

Did I mention it was incredibly humid?  While it never rained on me the entire race, apparently once we left transition and headed out of town, it just poured for a few minutes.  So it was overcast, but athletes were losing lots of fluids throughout the morning.

I was prepared to get Gatorade at the second aid station, but unfortunately I was way too fast, and they weren’t quite ready for me.   I knew at that point that I would basically need to stop at the final aid station 15 miles later and make sure I was able to get some fluids, or I would be in for it.  During that time, I continued to inch closer and closer to Ian.  My sense of urgency wasn’t there, because I also knew that nobody was too close behind me either, and I was confident that I could throw down a decent run split to close out the race.  So by the time I got to the third aid station, I was about 10 seconds behind Ian, I basically stopped to make sure I got the bottle, and then spent a little time basically chugging the water.  I finished the bottle way too fast, and I knew that I would be in trouble if I didn’t pay special attention to drinking on the run course.  Starting a half marathon in a dehydrated state is never a good idea!  Ian had put another 10-15 seconds into me during that time, so it took another 10 miles or so to really close back down on him, and by the time I got to within 5 seconds of him, we were turning onto Greensprings Road and preparing to dismount.  So I just stayed where I was, let Ian lead into T2 because frankly he earned it.  I know he had the motorcycle with him, but unfortunately the motorcycle only goes as fast as you are riding.  I was able to judge my effort off of the motorcycle, so I had a big advantage there.

Ian had a crazy fast T2 and put another couple of seconds on me entering the run course.  I felt ok, but definitely knew it would be a slog once I started going.  I tried to stay calm and relaxed, and let my pace come to me.  Sometimes you just can’t force things.  I took the lead just before the mile mark, gave Ian a couple words of encouragement, and then went to work.  By mile 4 I had put about 3 minutes into Ian, who was still holding on to second place.  I did notice Dan Harris was making a move and was only about 90 seconds back from Ian at that point.  By the time I reached mile 7, Dan had taken over second place, but was about 5:30 behind me.  So he was running well, but I was still inching away from him.  That gave me confidence, especially as I was starting to feel the effects of the humidity and the race up until that point.  At mile 11 I had close to 7 minutes on Dan, so from that point on I just went into cruise control and came in as relaxed as I could.  I was going to be about a minute away from my course record, but at that point, finishing strong and controlled was more important to me than 60 seconds.  Dan Harris finished just over 6 minutes behind me in the closest Patriot’s Half finish I have had to date, which is a true testament to his steady improvement year by year.  Soon, a course record effort will be necessary in order to win this race, which would be amazing.  I think the Patriot’s Half is an incredible race with a fun, honest course, and I would love to see the top end of the field grow and become one of the more competitive events on the East Coast.   Ian held on to third place and got a nice paycheck for his efforts, although he might be a bit more disenchanted with long course after his experience.  I think it would be great to meet somewhere in the middle, perhaps an Olympic distance, and duke it out with him.

As I figured I would be, I was pretty smashed after finishing.  It took me a few hours to rehydrate and get my body back up to speed.  One thing that brought my overall spirit up was hearing about how all of the Otstot’s Hotshots did in their respective races!  In the Olympic we had four athletes, and all four took first place in their respective categories.  In the Half, we had a 30 minute personal best, and a first time finisher who broke 5:30 under very difficult running conditions.  What an awesome day!

I would not be able to do what I do without the support of my family, friends, and sponsors.  Especially Xterra Wetsuits, Louis Garneau clothing, Rudy Project helmets and sunglasses, Osmo Nutrition, and overall support from Team Snapple.

Luray Triathlon Weekend

When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

 

I was so fortunate to stumble upon the Luray Triathlon Festival, produced by Racine Multisports.  Although the race has existed for a decade, for some reason it’s never been on my race radar.  This year would have been more of the same, as I was originally planning to compete at Challenge Poconos with a large Snapple contingent.  However, once the Challenge Family announced that the pro race would be eliminated, I decided to look elsewhere for a race.  The Luray event seemed absolutely perfect.  They were offering a decent prize purse for both the Olympic and sprint distance races, and the trip to Luray wasn’t extraordinarily difficult for Tori and I to make Friday afternoon.

The rest of this blog could be devoted to what an amazing event was put on by Racine Multisports.  Instead, I’ll leave it at this:  do this race.  It was awesome.  I’ve been to races all over the country, and this was absolutely one of the best.  I loved every aspect and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Now to the races.  I decided to compete in both the Olympic and the sprint, which is dubbed the Devil’s Double.  I knew there would be some stiff competition, so I came in to the weekend mentally ready to give it a go.

The Olympic took place Saturday, and there were more than a handful of pro/elite competitors in the first wave, enough to make the swim start a bit rough for the first few hundred meters.  I hung tough from the start and found myself placed in the second pack halfway through the loop.  I felt comfortable and smooth, so from there I pushed the pace and broke the second pack up, resulting in not only making up some ground on the three leaders, but also creating a buffer between myself and the rest of the group.  I exited the water 5th and quickly set about trying to make up the 30 seconds or so that I lost in the swim over the long run to transition.  I was a bit rusty in transition, but got out decently well and found myself in second on the road within a mile of the bike course.

Nick Brodnicki had executed a very nice swim and a very quick T1, and he was just far enough ahead of me that I could spot him on long stretches of road.  His cycling was on fire, though, and he gradually distanced himself from me over the 26 mile course.  I was happy with my effort, and for me, I executed my race plan well.  I just didn’t anticipate that Nick would be three minutes ahead of me going into the run.

I will admit that the gap immediately made me quite nervous.  Three minutes in a full or half isn’t too much, but that’s a lot of ground to make up in a 10k.  I wasn’t going to do anything stupid, though, so I set out running within myself. I figured if that effort could get me to within 90 seconds at 5k, then I had a legitimate chance.  Nick started off strong, and in the first two miles I had made up about a minute.  Then at 5k the time gap was 1:10.  I felt good, I was relaxed, and I was ready to roll.  Over the next 2 miles I pushed hard, caught Nick just after 4.5 miles, and then kept the pace for another mile or so to attempt to create a gap.  The effort worked, and with half a mile left, I was able to come into the finishing area smooth and steady, and enjoy the victory.

After a couple of media interviews, I went for a cool down in Lake Arrowhead with Tom Wood, attended the awards ceremony, and went home to put the legs up and prepare for the Sprint.

Ouch.  I knew racing two triathlons in two days was going to be tough, but holy moly my legs felt rotten when I woke up Sunday morning.  I kept having to tell myself that all the guys who raced the Olympic were feeling the same way, so expectations for my own race execution were just going to have to be moderate.  I opted to cut my run warm up short and instead did most of my warm up in the water.

There were about the same number of athletes in the elite wave as the day before, but the race conditions were a little different.  There was a massive glare from the sunrise that made sighting eastward almost impossible.  It was strange because the day before was clear (and I would have assumed the sun would have been rising at the same time and at the same location), but for whatever reason, it was causing a much bigger problem today.  The start was hectic again, and there were a few who jumped off the front right away.  As soon as we turned the first buoy and looked east, BAM!  nothing but sunshine.  The leaders continued on course, and I worked with one other athlete a few ticks back for about 100m, and then the leaders unexpectedly turned right and started heading towards the finish.  I stopped for a brief moment, got my bearings, realized that there was one more buoy before the turn and continued on.  The three leaders realized their mistake after 15-20 seconds, and then corrected their line, meeting me at that turn buoy.  So I kind of lucked out in that I ended up right in the dead middle of the front group, as the front pack and second pack merged just 250m from the finish and they didn’t create another gap in that short period of time.

That gave me a bit of confidence, and I stormed up the hill to transition, looking to be as efficient as possible onto my bike.  All of the major players were there, and about 8 athletes hit the bike course within 15 seconds of each other.  I was determined to stick with Brodnicki on the bike today come hell or high water.  The sprint distance for Luray is a bit bike heavy, so I was concerned that if he put even 90 seconds into me on the bike that I wouldn’t have the time to catch him.  Brodnicki, Tom Wood, and I separated ourselves from the group quickly, and soon Tom made the pass for the lead.  I was content to sit back and stay within range of them both.  I kind of yo-yoed between 5-15 seconds of their pace over the next 5-6 miles, but when we hit the false flats, Tom really put the hammer down and I decided to make a push and bridge the gap.  I passed Brodnicki who wasn’t having the ride he had hoped for, and caught up to Wood with about 3 miles to go.  From there I stayed put and we came in to transition together, about 20 seconds ahead of Brodnicki.

Tom had run strong the day before (actually passing Nick at the line to take second), so I made the decision then and there to go out of the gates hard and make it as tough a possible the entire way.  We exited transition side by side, but after a few hundred meters, I had formed a gap.  I kept the pressure on until the turnaround, where I saw that I had a sizeable margin, and then was able to relax a bit and run controlled for the last half of the race.  It happened to be the USAT Mid-Atlantic Sprint Triathlon Championship, so I was able to add that title on top of my two wins.

Overall it was a great weekend, I was able to get to know some of my competitors, many of which race for US Pro Tri, and they represented their team extremely well.  I was able to meet up with some Snapple teammates, and I was also able to meet some new triathlon faces some of which were completing their first triathlon.  Congratulations to everyone!

Thanks to Tori, my daughter Cassidy, and my incredible support from Team Snapple, Xterra Wetsuits, LG Apparel, Osmo Nutrition, and Rudy Project.

Up next:  Going for my fifth win in as many tries at the Patriot’s Half in Williamsburg, VA.

Out of Control

It was somewhat fortuitous that my column in the April version on the Snapple Triathlon Team Newsletter was about dealing with disappointing races. I certainly had one of those yesterday at the 119th running of the Boston Marathon.
Training had gone very well leading up to the event. I had ticked off all the boxes: long runs, consistent volume, speedwork, technique work, downhill running. I not only made sacrifices with my family, but also sacrificed some short term success in my triathlon season by cutting out a lot of  swim and bike mileage in favor of adding more running. I had some breakthrough workouts, I trained smart and avoided injuries, and I was feeling great leading up to Marathon Monday.
But no matter how much you do to prepare, there are some things that are just out of your control.
Saturday morning I awoke, and Tori had prepared a massive pile of pancakes for breakfast before I drove to the airport. At the time I wasn’t hungry. I thought it was perhaps a lack of appetite associated with tapering, or some early butterflies in my stomach in anticipation of the big weekend. For the remainder of the day I ate, but struggled to take in small amounts. I didn’t feel super, and I was pretty confident that it was not nerves but a stomach virus.
My initial thought was: “Good! I have this now, perhaps it’s only one of these 24 hour things.  So if I get plenty of sleep tonight I’ll wake up tomorrow, and I’ll have a day to fuel up and rest before the race.” Unfortunately that was not the case. I awoke Sunday with the stomach in the exact same state. I tested it out with a very easy run along the bay by the hotel, and the legs and lungs felt ok. So based on that and the assumption that the virus would continue to pass through my system on Sunday, I decided to still start the race, even if I had to adjust my goals.
Sunday rolled along, and I forced myself again to eat relatively small amounts of food throughout the day.  I probably only consumed somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 calories the entire day, most of that coming in the form of Gatorade and an Odwalla juice.
I woke Monday morning, again hoping my stomach would say “feed me!” Alas, no such call came from my hurting belly. I managed to eat a pack of cliff shots and a banana, but that was it.
It was cold, windy, and there were bouts of sporatic rain hitting the pre-race area. I welcomed the cold and the rain, but the wind was going to make for a slow and tactical day for everyone in the race. I decided to take the first miles as originially planned, and then see how I felt. I took the opening downhill miles very conservative, running 5:59, 5:48, and then 5:42 for the first three. I felt smooth and controlled, and my legs felt better than I thought they would (although still not super). The next 10 miles were run right around the high 5:30’s, which was a shade off of what I had trained for, but given the wind and my pre-race situation, I was very happy and content to keep clicking off those miles as long as I could. The half was reached in 1:14 and change. Knowing I would need to adjust my nutrition plan a bit, I stopped and got Gatorade a few more times than I planned early on. Once I reached miles 15-16, but body started telling me that it was running out of fuel. Although I still managed to average 6:10’s from miles 16-17, I was using the last dregs of energy stored in my fatigued muscles, and soon they would not be able to support that workload. I nabbed two gels at the aid station at mile 17 (I should have grabbed 3 or 4 had I known how bad it was going to get), and the goal from that point on was to keep running if at all possible. That goal worked for a couple miles, but it could not be sustained, and the last 10k of the race I was only able to muster a walk/jog. I began drinking several cups of Gatorade at every aid station to give my body something to use during the intermittent distances. The only thing running by mile 25 was my mind, hoping that I could get to the finish line without doing it “Julie Moss style.”
In the end, I did make it there under my own power. It was not pretty, it was not quick, and my finisher’s pictures are comical. I could have not started at all. I could have easily dropped out. I could have gotten myself into some really big trouble by not keeping my mind in the game. My body spiraled out of control and I simply tried to funnel it in one direction. I was happy to be part of the history of the Boston Marathon, and hopefully I’ll come back and get some redemption.
Until then, I think it’s important to bring back those points in the column I wrote and show how I am using them to deal with this disappointing weekend.
1. Identify what went wrong and take steps towards rectifying the problem
I started racing a marathon on empty. I caught a virus at a very inopportune time, and it unfortunately affected how I prepared my body for the physical demands of the race. To some extent catching cold is an unlucky break, but leading up to my next big race I can be more diligent about washing my hands several times throughout the day and taking in some extra immune support vitamins and herbs.
2. There are other races.
Heck yeah there are! And all I can think about now is doing another marathon. I am so bummed that I was not able to show my fitness and have a nice result to accompany it. I am already looking for possibilities in the fall for my Boston redemtption race.
3. Work on resiliency
The result of this race came down to something that ended up being out of my control – illness. I understand that and also understand that although I did not have the race I was looking for from a time and place perspective, it may have been an even better race from other perspectives. I know I ran tough as nails from mile 20-26.2, and literally tapped out everything my body had that day. That took a lot of mental strength, especially doing that knowing that I was putting out that effort and still going backwards in the faster moving field around me.
4. Find the positive
I was still able to finish the race! I have some experience on the course that I can use in the future. I helped break the wind a a few times for some of the guys I was running with in the first half who may have gone on to PR’s. Even when I was racing with no food and with a stomach turned upside down, I still ran a 2:46.
Thanks to my family for their constant support, the Snapple National Triathlon Team, SweatVac, Osmo, Rudy Project, 3Sports, and Trainingpeaks for getting me through this race. I may not have hit a homerun this time out, but even the best hitters strikeout from time to time!

Maritime 8k Finish 2015Night and Day

Maritime 8k Race Report

After cramping up in my season opener at the Love Rox Half Marathon, completing the last eight miles of the race in damage control, I looked to find another race before Boston where I could create a positive experience.  Since several of my athletes were racing the One City Marathon, I decided that jumping in the Maritime 8k, which took place in conjunction with the marathon, would be the perfect opportunity.

Honestly, time and place were not the most important things for me this time out.  Goal number one was to take steps towards being able to race without cramping up.  So I just decided to change all sorts of things leading up to the race.  I didn’t stress about eating a specific pre race meal, I changed the foods I ate for breakfast, I decided to race in Mizuno Sayonaras instead of my Nike Lunar Racers and Saucony Kinvaras, and I changed my warm up routine, starting 15 minutes later than usual, leaving less time between the end of my warm up jog and the start of the race.  Even if my cramping issues were just mental, making all of these changes might relieve some of the mental tension that was created every race as well.

From a racing perspective, the experience was fairly unremarkable.  My strategy going in was to start very conservative.  After talking with Ryan Carroll before the race, I knew he was just doing a race pace workout, so I knew he was essentially running with an effort cap.  I started off very easy with the pack, Ryan Carroll took off and created a 15 meter gap through the mile.  Once we went up and down the on and off ramps to Interstate 664, I steadily increased the pace and caught Ryan around mile two.  I kept my foot on the pedal and opened up a sizable gap over the next mile.  At mile four, the lead bike let me know I had about a 200m buffer, so I was confident that I could shut it down in the last mile without fear that he would be making up a 30 second gap.

So I didn’t really have to race for the win, but I did not cramp up which was great news!  I was also happy to have won the race, of course, and I was pretty happy with my time of 26:00.  The Sayonaras may not be the fastest and lightest racing shoes on the market, but they did the job.  Definitely a much better experience than my first race of the season!